Your love story begins. You meet your soulmate and you can’t even remember what life felt like before you met. Everything revolves around your partner. You dream about each other, you talk to and about each other, and can’t take your hands off each other. There is no shortage of passion and sex feels spontaneous and exciting. There is never a dull moment, and life just feels complete.
Now years later, your soulmate is now your live-in partner. You live what Esther Perel in “Mating in Captivity” calls a “domestic bliss”; the relationship feels safe and comfortable. But what used to be exciting and passionate, now feels forced and robotic. And you begin to wonder if you have lost your sex drive.
The reality is that sex is not a drive as Emily Nagosky, Ph.D., explains in “Come as You Are.” No one has ever died from not having sex. Instead, it is an incentive motivation system. The honeymoon stage eventually ends in any relationship, and for many people, sex feels calculated and dependent on a pleasant context. The idea of incentive means that an attractive external stimulus is required, or good reasons to engage in sexual experiences.
Some common benefits of sex include stress reduction, increase in physical pleasure and mood, improved sleep or even burned calories, as it is a form of exercise after all! But here are a few less talked about advantages of sex:
- Sex teaches mindfulness. Researchers Masters and Johnson called “Spectatoring” a form of performance anxiety, where a person worries about their body or sexual functioning while having sex, which prevents them from experiencing pleasure and connection. At its core, sex is a sensory experience. Lori Brotto, Ph.D., the creator of mindfulness-based sex therapy, states that the practice of paying attention, non-judgmentally, moment by moment to the pleasant, tingly sensations in the body, and/or a sexual partner, can cultivate sexual desire and arousal.
- Sex can increase self-compassion. Sex is one of the most vulnerable experiences most individuals will engage in with a partner. Sex oftentimes requires trust, safety and consent in order to be comfortable lying fully naked in front of a partner. Unfortunately, the society we live in sets unrealistic standards in regards to physical appearance and sexual identity through social media or porn. So when we are naked and vulnerable, we will be more prone to being influenced by what the world tells us to be, and as a result, judge ourselves very harshly. Kristin Neff, Ph.D., in her research on self-compassion states that “by giving ourselves compassion, we can start to let go of society’s narrow definition of how men and women are supposed to be sexually. We can then start to love and accept ourselves exactly as we are and express our sexuality in a way that most fulfills us.”
- Sex can improve communication. Oftentimes couples therapists work on a couple’s communication prior to discussing sexual struggles, with the hope that improved communication will better their sex life. But from a sex therapist’s perspective, focusing on improving sex can be a prescription for improved communication. When couples learn to engage in mindful and pleasurable sensory experiences, their mood improves through the release of endorphins and oxytocin, they feel closer to each other, and as a result, they might be more willing to hear each other and validate their feelings and needs.
- Sex helps decreases pain. Next time your partner says that they are not in the mood for sex because of a headache, you can challenge them with the fact that sex is a natural pain killer. During sex, our body releases endorphins, which block pain and stress response, and oxytocin, the hormone of “love,” responsible for bonding, pain-relieving properties in it.
- Sex can increase creativity: Oftentimes couples come to see a sex therapist because sex no longer feels spontaneous and exciting, but it is more a chore or routine. After thorough assessment, it is clearly identified that sex is oversimplified to quick touch and intercourse. In those cases, expanding the sexual repertoire and putting aside intercourse can help think about other ways to rediscover each other’s desire. Creative role-plays, playfulness through long make-out sessions in the car or sensual massages can enhance the sexual experience and increase the bond in a relationship.
Next time you think about all the excuses you should not have sex, pause for a second and remind yourself of all the reasons why you should.